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I found one of the weirdest things I’ve ever found a couple summers ago, when I was on a five day hike through the backcountry of Idaho’s Bitterroot Mountains with my brother Matt and his two pack llamas, Timmy and Haggy. I lost my spoon on the second morning of the trip, and so I started keeping an eye out for a suitable replacement. As we headed up a creek bed, I stumbled across the skeleton of an elk. Thinking I might find a bone that could be modified into a spoon, I went over to check it out.

The presence of horn stubs told me that it was a bull, and the lack of antlers told me that it died in late winter. It had been there long enough to become bleached out, and porcupines and smaller rodents had been chewing it on for minerals. I noticed a nice spoon-like pocket on each vertebrae, and started picking them up to see which one would make the best spoon.

This happened to be the eleventh or twelth vertebrae I picked up,  and as I checked the bone for spooniness, I was shocked to see that it housed an archery hunter’s broadhead.  Had the arrow hit just a quarter-inch lower, the bull would have dropped in its tracks from a spine shot – and a lucky hunter would have had a bull despite his sloppy shot placement.

Instead, the broadhead just missed the spinal column and lodged into the bone of the vertebrae. The bone closed around it and eventually healed. The bull survived. While I have no idea how many years the elk carried that broadhead for, it was certainly for an extended period.

I looked around the area of the skeleton and did not find any trace of the arrow or insert. My assumption is that the bull carried the arrow until it came unscrewed, and the arrow did not break off.

Today, I leave its bone on my desk as a reminder that there’s a very fine line—sometimes just a quarter-inch thick—that separates good luck from bad luck.

And I hang the skull on the brick wall near my outdoor kitchen; I think of it as a trophy that should belong to someone else. If by some act of magic I could find out who arrowed that bull, I’d gladly hand it over. There’s no telling what his or her relationship to that skull would be.